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The future of proposed toll bridge will be decided on Wednesday

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 2:46 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A controversial plan that has been getting a lot of attention will have its fate decided this week. The Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO) will vote on an unsolicited proposal to replace the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge with a new toll bridge.

It’s a plan that has drawn criticism from both residents and elected officials for the possible impacts it could have on drivers, traffic, and other unforeseen consequences. The NCDOT has said it would not move forward with the proposal if the WMPO did not ask them to do so.

The Cape Fear Memorial Bridge is about 50 years old and, according to the NCDOT, needs to be replaced. However, due to the current economic situation of the organization, staff has said it is unlikely that the bridge will be funded in the next 10 years.

The WMPO board is made up of county commissioners from New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties as well as Wilmington City Council members and representatives from each municipality in New Hanover County, the Town of Leland, the Town of Bellville, and the Town of Navassa. The next step is a critical one since, if the MPO decides not to move forward with the exploration then the toll bridge proposal is essentially dead in the water.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield and WMPO board member explained how that vote will work.

“There are 13 members on the MPO, 12 of those members are elected one serves at the pleasure of the Board of Transportation which is a DOT Appointee and so there are two county commissioners on that board and two city council members as well, so myself and commissioner Deb Hayes will be voting on moving forward or not moving forward with this. And out of 13 votes, the majority will rule in terms of next steps or no next steps,” he said.

While some WMPO members and elected officials have been staunchly opposed to the proposal, others see the vote to move forward with the exploration of the toll bridge as a risk-free endeavor.

One of the sticking points for Barfield is the secretive nature of the proposal. The company that submitted it has not been named and the possible toll prices have not been announced.

“Folks want to know what it costs to live in any given place number one – whether it’s a nickel toll, a dime toll, a 50 cent toll, a dollar toll every time you cross that bridge it’s going to have an impact on those that can probably least afford that … and so for me you want to know what that toll is upfront as opposed to spending millions of dollars only to find out down the road that it is going to be a toll that is too excessive and having to scrap the project but having wasted millions of dollars in the process,” Barfield said.

Who makes up the WMPO?

  • David Piepmeyer, Pender County
  • Brenda Bozeman, Town of Leland
  • Charlie Rivenbark, City of Wilmington
  • Deb Hays, Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority
  • Mike Allen, Town of Belville
  • John Ellen, Town of Kure Beach
  • Jonathan Barfield, Jr., New Hanover County
  • Frank Williams, Brunswick County
  • Eulis Willis, Town of Navassa
  • Hank Miller, Town of Wrightsville Beach
  • LeAnn Pierce, Town of Carolina Beach
  • Landon Zimmer, NC Board of Transportation
  • Neil Anderson, City of Wilmington

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